Leviticus

A Holy God Creates a Holy People

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An Introduction to Courses

Choose your course based on your needs -

Taster Course

A short introduction

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Starter Course

Getting into the guts of what’s going on

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Main Course

The meat! And what to do about it!

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Dessert Course

Material for Church leaders and Tertiary level students

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The Key
The Key to unlocking the dynamic

The key to unlocking the dynamic of Leviticus is to keep the theme of ‘divine presence’ central as you read. Ask yourself, how does this passage teach the people to relate to the reality of God’s presence in their midst?


hear
Hear
Listen Here

Click on the link above for an audio version of Leviticus.

 

Download the Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling etc …


Read
Read

Keep a picture of the tabernacle handy. It will help you better understand the book’s laws, especially in the early chapters. There are some helpful images HERE, including some useful historical information.

 

Try to imagine the performance of the rituals that Leviticus describes. What would you have seen, heard, smelled, and felt?

 

This is a book about all of life. Observe the remarkable range of topics in the book. List them out.


Watch
Watch
Watch here

Ushpizin is an Israeli film about a poor modern orthodox couple trying to properly celebrate Sukkot in a Tel Aviv suburb.


Study
Study

Matt Lynch advises: It may prove hard to keep all the specific details of each ritual straight. That’s OK, even if it’s your third time around. Focus instead on recurring words, themes, and ideas. Also, try to get to know one ritual really well. By doing so, you’ll get deep inside the world of Leviticus.

 

Leviticus offers a powerful opportunity to let the Bible speak. We often face difficulties, precisely because we do not let the Bible have its own voice. We tend to overwhelm scripture with our assumptions about what it will say, and almost smother its unique and powerful voice. Leviticus is so different from the way most of us experience God, church, and the world, that we just might hear it speak to us. It is worth mentioning that in the early Church, Leviticus was one of the most quoted and consulted books. Christians found it immensely valuable! So why has the church so often ignored it? Perhaps it has more to offer than we think. It is good to highlight key themes in the book like clean/unclean, holiness, sacrifice, purity, etc. As you approach particular passages, ask why it might have been important for the average Israelite to know this text. What were they to imagine? What were they to experience? What practices were these verses meant to foster?


Meditate
Meditate

Begin your time with God each day by taking one or two verses, ‘wallowing in them deeply’, and then live the rest of the day in the light of their truths.

 

Suggested verses for meditation

 

Leviticus 11:47   ‘You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’

 

Leviticus 19:18   Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.’

 

Leviticus 19: 34   ‘The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

 

Leviticus 26:12-13   ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with your heads held high.’ 


learn
Learn

Consider learning:

 

 

Leviticus 26:12-13   ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.’

 


Challenge
The Challenge

Easy:

Q1   Who was the first High Priest?

Q2   What are some of the animals the Israelites were instructed to offer in sacrifice?

Q3   To which Bible book is Leviticus directly linked?

 

Straightforward:

Q4   What were the names of the main sacrifices?

Q5   Which tribe was privileged to manage the sacrificial system and the tabernacle?

Q6   What was the punishment for conducting ‘child sacrifice’?

 

Difficult:

Q7   What did every person with leprosy have to shout?

Q8   What did the Levites have as their inheritance, and what did they not have?

 

Testing:

Q9   What disaster happened immediately after the priests were ordained?

Q10   Chapter 23 lists the main festivals. What is so significant about the timing of when each festival and sacrifice had to be practiced?

 

 

Answers:

A1 – Aaron, the elder brother of Moses.

A2 – Bulls, sheep and goats, pigeons. 

A3 – Exodus. Exodus chapters 25-40 describe the building of the Tabernacle. Leviticus describes the ceremonies that are to be carried out in the Tabernacle.

A4 –1) The burnt offering. 2) The grain offering. 3) The fellowship (peace) offering. 4) The sin offering. 5) The guilt offering.

A5 – The Levites.

A6 – Every person who sacrificed a child was to be put to death (Leviticus 20:1).

A7 – ‘Unclean’.

A8 – The right to minister in the tabernacle; they were not given a region of land as were the other tribes.

A9 – Aaron’s two sons offered ‘unauthorised fire’ before the Lord, that is, they deliberately disobeyed the Lord and made up their own sacrifices, and they immediately died.

A10 – The sacrifices and festivals were each to be practiced when there was a ‘phase change’: at the point when day turned into night, or when the growing crops reached the point of harvest, or when the moon changed from one cycle to the next, or when one week ended and the next began.

taster course

Overview

Questions

5 mins

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    Summary Exhortation

     

    Leviticus is a book about holiness; God’s holiness and the call upon Israel to become a holy people. Holiness is fundamentally about otherness, an otherness that’s good for the thing (or people) that it is other than. In this sense, holiness is like the sun. The sun is other than the earth. But without it, life on earth couldn’t exist. It’s also like the moon. It exerts a powerful influence upon the earth via tides, enabling sea life to flourish. The goodness of the sun and moon depends on their other-ness. If they were somehow merged into one (not a good idea), life would be extinguished, and not augmented. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that a book about divine holiness feels strange and different. That’s partly because Leviticus focuses on the holy and ‘other’ God. It deals with sacrificial law, priestly garments and purification, skin disease laws, mould and mildew, and much more! But as we’ll see, by training ourselves to engage with the holy otherness of God expressed in Leviticus, we too can find resources for our lives to flourish. Like the earth’s relationship to the sun and moon, we depend on the holy otherness of God for our life.

     

    The book of Leviticus begins in chapters 1-7 with sacrificial law. The purpose of sacrifice is not to ‘give up for God,’ but to (1) give to God when approaching his presence, (2) cleanse in preparation for worship, and (3) cleanse from the pollution of sin. Each of these purposes pivot on one reality—that the holy God was living in a tent in the middle of God’s people Israel. Therefore, it was critical that they knew how to relate to him. Chapters 8-10 describe the ordination and immediate failure of the priesthood, before turning to one of the core priestly tasks (chapters 11-15), distinguishing between the clean and unclean, the holy and the common. Distinguishing was important, because it helped God’s people know how to live in proximity to God’s holiness and purity, and how to reflect the goodness of the created order. Chapter 16 is like a bridge in the book. It zeroes in on the need to restore the sanctuary’s purity, but also on the need for communal forgiveness and holiness. This links the priestly concerns of chapters 1-15 to the concerns of the average Israelite in chapters 17-27. These chapters deal with topics like how to treat neighbours and foreigners, to sexuality, festivals, and economic law. After studying this book, you’ll hopefully gain a better picture of how drawing close to a holy God is both awe-inspiring and life-giving.

     

    taster Questions - Questions to start you off

    Question 1 -

    In his podcast, Matt uses the illustration of living next to a power station to describe the presence of God in the Tabernacle in the heart of the nomadic Israelite community travelling across the Sinai desert. Have you ever visited a power station? Would you want to?


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    Question 2 -

    Imagine you’re from another planet, and you drop in on a church service happening on earth. What would you find most strange?


    Question 3 -

    What do you associate with the word ‘sacred’? Have you experienced something you would consider sacred?


    watch video

    starter course

    podcasts

    the essentials

    Questions

    10 mins

    • podcasts - 3 to 5 minute ‘Teach-Ins’ on key themes

    "Clean and Unclean" in Leviticus

    "Worship" in Leviticus

    "Holiness" in Leviticus

      the essentials - The literary features explained
    • Context
    • /
    • Literary Genre
    • /
    • Structure
    • /
    • Themes

    Context:

     

    Author and Date: We don’t know who wrote of the book of Leviticus. Traditional Jewish and Christian interpreters attribute the book to Moses, though Moses is a character introduced only in the third person (1:1). The book was likely written very late in Israel’s history, probably during or after the exile (ca. 538 BCE), even though the traditions and ideas predate those events by some length of time. One reason that scholars have suggested this late date is that Leviticus seemed to have little to no effect on the Jewish life recorded in the seven history books from Joshua to 2 Kings, which were themselves finished during the exile at the earliest. Yet the post-exilic books of 1 & 2 Chronicles bear the imprint of Leviticus on nearly every page. This suggest that Leviticus was either unknown (very unlikely) or not-yet-written by the time 1 & 2 Kings were finished. Since we don’t know much about the circumstances of the book’s composition, and the book itself yields few clues, the book of Leviticus has a timeless quality.

    Genre:

     

    Leviticus is mostly ‘ritual law’. Rituals are acts that call deliberate attention to their performance, and often for religious purposes. Rituals bring order, they mark transitions in time and space, and in religious contexts, they’re believed to bring certain realities into effect (cleansing, atonement, reconciliation). Ritual law doesn’t always explain the meaning of rituals. Instead, it focuses on right performance. Reading ritual law is like watching a ballet. Ballets don’t explain their meaning, and focus instead on the art and technique.

    Structure:

     

    Chapters 1-7       Sacrifice

    Chapters 8-10     Priestly ordination and failure

    Chapters 11-16   Laws about being clean/unclean, and pure/impure

    Chapters 17-27   Ethical and ritual laws for the people

    Themes:

     

    • Divine holiness.
    • Fellowship with God, and the conditions for fellowship with God (usually relating to purity, holiness, or morality).
    • The presence of God in the Tabernacle.
    • Sexual matters.
    • Festivals.
    • Sacrifice rituals.
    Literary Genre >
    starter Questions - To help you think carefully about the key issues

    Question 1 -

    The Jubilee 2000 third world debt relief initiative (and Jesus’ entire ministry (Luke 4)!) was inspired by Leviticus 25. What are some other ideas, economic or otherwise, for applying the revolutionary passage in today’s world?


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    Question 2 -

    ‘Love Island’ has caught the attention of the British nation and press. How can two people build a relationship that actually lasts?


    Question 3 -

    What are the rituals that govern your life? What are the rituals of your church tradition? Are there rituals you don’t understand? Which do you find most meaningful?


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    Question 4 -

    Forgiveness is central to God’s character. What are ways that you re-remember and experience that forgiveness, personally and in community?


    main course

    Verse by Verse

    The Apprentice

    Questions

    • Verse by Verse - For a thorough understanding of the Biblical text
    • Leviticus 1-7 "Sacrifices"
    • /
    • Leviticus 8-10 "Priestly Ordination and Failure"
    • /
    • Leviticus 11-16 "Clean and Unclean"
    • /
    • Leviticus 17-27 "Ethical and ritual laws for the people"

    Chapters 1-7 Sacrifice

     

     

    Leviticus 1 – The burnt offering ritual

     

    Leviticus begins with God speaking to Moses ‘from the tent of meeting’ (v1). Imagine here that God’s presence, situated in the Holy of Holies, calls out to Moses to instruct him. This verse introduces the whole book of Leviticus. Everything from this point forward assumes that God’s voice comes from that location. This may sound unimportant, or simply strange. However, the point is that the book’s main focus is on God’s presence, and how Israel might re-gain access to God’s presence. So it’s important that instruction comes from a God who is physically invested in his people, and not distant or remote. Verse 2 continues this theme of divine presence by focusing specifically on sacrifice. Sacrifices were occasions when Israelites would literally ’cause to bring near’ an offering to Yahweh. The rest of the chapter focuses on just how one is to bring near anything to Yahweh. It was a potentially dangerous situation that needed to be managed carefully.

     

    The chapter falls into two three main sections. V3-9 deal with the burnt offering from the herd; v10-13 the burnt offering from the flock; and v14-17 the burnt offering of a dove or pigeon. As we’ll see elsewhere in Leviticus, the passage progresses from most expensive to least expensive offerings. A rich person would presumably offer a more expensive offering. However, it’s important to note that God doesn’t treat the sacrificed bull with more favour than a pigeon. There’s a sliding scale economy that treats each as a burnt offering that is ‘pleasing’ to the LORD, full stop.

     

    1:3 – 9   Burnt offering from the herd

     

    The translation ‘burnt offering’ isn’t totally wrong, but it isn’t totally right either. It is literally an ‘ascending’ offering (an ‘olah in Hebrew). It is an offering that goes ‘up’. But how? And why? If you look at v9, you’ll notice that the offering is a ‘pleasing aroma‘ to the LORD. It becomes a pleasing aroma after it is entirely burnt up and turned into smoke on the altar. The aroma of the barbeque is pleasing to the LORD, establishing fellowship between worshipper and God.

    But let’s step back to see how this offering unfolds. First, the worshipper brings the animal of choice to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle). There, at the gate, he lays his hand on the head of the animal, and it is accepted on his behalf to make atonement. Atonement is another theological term that requires some clarification. Atonement literally means ‘at-one-ment,’ or reconciliation. However, the underlying Hebrew term (kipper) means either reconciliation or purification. In this instance, it probably means purification. The worshipper needed to be ritually – or ceremonially – clean before entering the Tabernacle’s sacred space.  After presenting the animal, things got bloody. The offerer would slaughter the bull before the LORD, an event that probably took at least an hour. By then, the offerer would have been covered in blood. It wasn’t a clean process!

    The burnt offering ritual shifts from offerer to priests in v5, though the offerer still has a few roles to play. The priests were the only ones who could ritually handle blood. The priests would bring the blood (presumably in bowls, cf. Exod 24:6), and ‘present’ it before then splashing it against the sides of the altar. The reasons for this are unknown, but the best guess is that the priest makes a link between the offerer, who brings the bull, and the LORD, represented by the altar. The offerer then flays the meat and puts it on the altar. He would also wash the hind legs and internal organs, probably because they came into contact with the animal’s excrement (priests, stay away!). The process came to completion as the offering ‘turned into smoke’ (vehiqtir) upon the altar as a pleasing aroma to the LORD. The offering went from offerer to priest to Yahweh. Mission accomplished.

     

    1:10 – 13   Burnt offering from the flock

     

    The next set of instructions is quite similar to the first, so I won’t rehearse them here. However, it’s worth pointing out that the sheep was the most commonly offered animal in the Bible. They show up in numerous sacrificial ceremonies, including the daily offerings, the Sabbath, and festivals. And while the bull could be offered anywhere in the forecourt of the Tabernacle, the sheep was to be slaughtered on the ‘north side’ of the altar (v11). Why? It’s not clear. Perhaps the bull was too hard to control, so specifying one spot would be senseless. Or perhaps it’s because the ash heap was on the east of the altar (v16), the laver to the west (Exod 40:30), and the altar’s stairs on the south. The north was the only spot left (Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 164).

     

    1:14 – 17   Burnt offering of dove or pigeon

     

    This was obviously the least expensive offering. The offerer had little role to play. He simply presented the offering to the LORD. Then the priest lopped off its head, drained its blood, and offered it as a sacrifice. Two features deserve attention. First, the priest had to drain, rather than splash its blood (v16). Birds may not have yielded enough blood to warrant collecting into a bowl for splashing. Otherwise, the ritual doesn’t explain its rationale. Second, the LORD is keen to emphasise that the bird was not to be split in two (v17). This recalls Genesis 15:10, where Abraham saw a vision of animals split in two by God, but the birds were not split in two. Presumably, splitting birds in half was considered offensive or inappropriate for sacrifices. We don’t really know why. As with the bull and the animal from the flock, this offering is also ‘an aroma pleasing to the LORD‘ (v17).

     

    Putting it together

     

    1. Sacrifice focused on approaching God’s presence. Sacrifice was not only about dealing with sin. Think of it like the rules for how to enter God’s house. Someone moving to the UK might ask, ‘What are the customs for going as a guest to someone’s house? Should I bring a bottle of wine? Flowers? Nothing?’ In a similar way, Leviticus says, ‘When you enter God’s house, bring an offering.’ The point, of course, is to enable sinful humans to meet with the holy God. Leviticus makes the audacious claim that it’s possible!
    2. There’s no cheap thanks. In the Old Testament, one of the primary purposes for burnt offerings was to celebrate and say thank you to God. Exhibiting thankfulness was not a flippant activity! Bringing a bull might be the equivalent of one or two months of wages. Saying thank you meant putting your money—or possessions—where your mouth was.
    3. God is fair. The sliding scale of sacrifices meant that a burnt offering of a bull was just as valuable as a dove, depending on one’s financial circumstances.

     

     

    Leviticus 2 – Grain offerings

     

    Leviticus 2 outlines instructions for the grain offering. Its purpose was varied, but was generally thought of as a means of giving a gift to God. In v1-3, we read about the raw grain offerings. The offerer brought fine flour with oil and frankincense. Those rather pricey items were supplied by the offerer, who handed goods to the priest. After taking a handful, the priest offered it as a ‘pleasing aroma’ to God. This is the first instance where Aaron (the High Priest) and his sons took a portion of the offering. This was how they got paid, and it was considered to be a ‘holy’ portion that they shared with God.

     

    Verses 4-10 describe the various kinds of baked grain offerings. Like the burnt offering, the grain offerings begin with the most expensive and move to the least expensive. Oven-baked (v4) was the most expensive, since it required a more elaborate setup. The griddle (v5-6) and pan (v7) were next in sequence. Like the raw grain offering (v1-3), the priest ate some of the baked goods. While the priest certainly enjoyed the food, it also signalled their unique holy status. They ate what God ‘smelled’ and thus enjoyed a meal with him, even though he didn’t literally eat.

     

    Verses 11-13 remind offerers that leaven and honey were forbidden as offerings on the altar. They were allowed as ‘an offering of choice products’ (v12), but not on the altar. The author provides no reason for this prohibition. Some speculate that because they both ferment and deteriorate, they symbolised death. By contrast, salt was required (v13) because it symbolised preservation. If this interpretation is correct, we see in a small way how the sacrificial system symbolised the triumph of life over death in God’s presence.

     

    Finally, v14-16 tell Israel that their first fruit offerings of grain needed to be ‘new grain from fresh ears’. Like other offerings, God asked his people to bring their best to offer him.

     

    Leviticus 3—Well-being (or peace) offerings

     

    The purpose of the well-being or peace offering was to eat meat, either a sheep or a goat. According to Leviticus, all meat that could be sacrificed must be sacrificed. So any sheep or goat that was without blemish needed to be offered to God. Just like you might take your meat to the butcher, you had to take your meat to the Tabernacle (Lev 17:1-9). But more importantly, you needed to share the best portions of the meat with God. While the fat is often the stuff we cut off of meat, it wasn’t in ancient societies. But for Israel, they gave the fat around the liver and intestines to God (v3-4; 9-10)). He got the best portion. Verse 16 makes the point again: ‘All fat is the LORD’s!’ The priests then offered these fat portions as a burnt offering, a ‘pleasing aroma’ to God (v5,11, 16). Like the burnt offering, the priests dashed the animal’s life-blood against the altar, returning it to God the creator and giver of life (v2, 8, 13). The offerer could eat the rest. This was the first offering in Leviticus that the worshipper could eat.

     

    Taking stock

     

    We might pause here to consider that up to this point, none of the offerings mentioned have as their main purpose the forgiveness or purification for sin. The burnt offering ritual provided atonement, but as mentioned, that might have just been an equivalent to ceremonial purification. In any case, the focus of each offering is communion with God. This involved two acts:

    1. Transferring something from the ordinary to the sacred realm. The language of ‘turning into smoke on the altar’ and the act of dashing blood against the altar emphasised this point.
    2. Entrance into God’s presence. In addition to the sacrifice, the offerer also came close to God’s presence in the Tabernacle. The offering provided a way for them to draw near to God’s dwelling.

     

    Leviticus 4:1 – 6:7   Sin offerings

     

    We finally reach the portion of the book that addresses the problem(s) of sin. But before we rush in with our own ideas about sin, it’s worth considering what the term ‘sin’ covers in Leviticus. It refers to two main types:

    1. Minor moral sins – This includes things like forgetting or failing to speak up in a hearing (5:1), promising something carelessly and then realising you need to backtrack (5:4), deceiving a neighbour about a deposit (6:2), or finding a lost item and lying about it (6:4).
    2. Impurity – This includes menstruation, male emissions, childbirth, touching an animal carcass, skin disease, etc. Several of these sources of impurity refer to normal life-cycles, and are even good and necessary to produce life. However, they caused ceremonial uncleanness, and thus required a sin offering. It’s important to note that this is not moral sin. In fact, the English word ‘sin’ is ill-suited. Impurity works better, even though the same word is used for moral sins.

    Noticeably, there was no sacrifice for intentional ‘high-handed’ major sins like idolatry, bloodshed, or sexual immorality; at least not for an individual. The only option was to throw oneself on the mercy of God (cf. Ps 51).

     

    Most serious sin offerings: Just as sacrifices began with the most expensive, the sin offerings began with the most serious. Leviticus 4:3-12 address the sin of a priest. His sin brought guilt on the whole people (v3). Verses 13-21 address unintentional sins of the whole congregation, v22-26 a ruler, and v27-31 an ordinary Israelite. The sin of a priest or the whole congregation required a bull—the most expensive offering—and its blood needed to be sprinkled 7x before the curtain of the Holy of Holies (v6, 17) and the altar (v7, 18). Sins of a ruler required a male goat without flaw (v23) and the application of blood to the altar (v25). Finally, sins of an individual required a female goat or sheep without flaw (v28, 32), and blood was applied to the altar.

     

    Provisions for the poor: If a person couldn’t afford a sheep or goat, they could bring two doves or pigeons (5:7-10), or, if they were very poor, they could just bring some ‘choice flour’ (5:11-13).

     

    Moral and ceremonial cleansing: With each offering, the offerer would be forgiven their sin through the offering. It’s worth emphasising again that not all sins were moral, and thus being ‘forgiven’ meant that they were cleansed of their uncleanness and able to participate in the worshipping community once again.

     

    Making restitution: Sometimes an individual needed to make amends for something they’d done. They needed to do something to set it right, and not just deal with the sin or uncleanness. Leviticus 5:14-6:7 states that the individual had to come to the sanctuary with their sin offering in hand, return a lost/stolen item (or with money to pay for damage), and then add one-fifth of its value (5:16; 6:5). So if I borrowed £100 and forgot to repay in an agreed one-month period, and didn’t realise it until three months later, I might pay back £120 to make amends while also offering a sacrifice to God. Or if I crashed your chariot, I might pay for damages plus 20%. In this way, I atone for my sin but also make restitution with the aggrieved party. The extra 20% also acted as a deterrent against careless treatment of property.

     

    Section Questions:

    1. What picture of God does the first 6 chapters of Leviticus present? Did that picture challenge, confirm, or surprise your expectations?
    2. What are some ways that Leviticus 1-6 challenges contemporary worship?
    3. Do you think we operate with a theology of ‘cheap thanks’ in our worship today?
    4. What are the risks and benefits of singing/saying but not sacrificing our thanksgiving today?

     

    Leviticus 6:8 – 7:38 – Instructions to priests about sacrifices

    Can’t get enough of sacrifice law? You’re in luck! The tables now turn. Whereas Leviticus 1:1-6:7 includes laws about sacrifice for all the people, our next section is especially for priests. But before you tune out, thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t plan on becoming an Israelite priest,’ there’s actually a lot for you in here. This section tells us important things about who God’s people were supposed to be, what God’s holiness is like, and more.

     

    Leviticus 6:8-7:38 picks up where Lev 1:17 left off, with the entirely burned offerings. The section then continues to detail five other offerings that they would facilitate, so six in all:

     

    1) Entirely burned offerings (6:8-11);

    2) Grain offerings (6:14-23);

    3) Purification offerings (6:24-30);

    4) Compensation, or guilt, offerings (7:1-10);

    5) Communal well-being offerings (7:11-14);

    6) Communal thanksgiving and well-being offerings (7:14-21).

     

    I won’t give full detail on each offering, but will provide you with a few main points from this section:

     

    1. You’ll recall that the burnt offering was the only sacrifice entirely consumed on the altar. V8-13 tell us that the priests had to keep the altar’s fire burning continually, and would offer a burnt offering and well-being offering each morning (v12). Except for the animal’s hide, neither priest nor offerer derived any benefit from the offering. Sometimes we’re called to give to God without consideration of what we might gain in return.
    2. Animal sacrifices were considered ‘holy’ once they were presented to God. They became consecrated, or set apart for God. This meant that even their ashes had to be carefully placed beside the altar on the east side, after the offering had burned completely and all night (v9; cf. Lev 1:16). After the ashes cooled, the priests had to change their clothes and take the sacrifice outside the camp ‘to a clean location’ (v11). The idea seemed to be that the priest’s garments had become holy because they touched the food offering (v18). Bringing holiness out into the camp would be dangerous, since holiness cannot come into contact with uncleanness. By changing clothes, the priest kept his holy garments in the sanctuary area. Holiness is good … but like radioactive material, it needs to be respected and handled carefully.
    3. Priests had to offer the best portion to God, but could enjoy other portions. The best portion was the kidneys and the fat around them. In the modern West, that’s the stuff we throw away, but it wasn’t so for Israel. That was the king’s portion (7:4). So priests had to give God the best portion of the meal, but could enjoy the rest (7:6, 30-34). For some offerings, the people could also enjoy the meal, but only if they were ceremonially clean (7:19-20)

    Thus far in the story, the priesthood had not officially begun. Some of the offerings listed in this section (6:8-7:38) prepared the priests, and most significantly, the High Priest Aaron, for the priesthood (e.g. 6:20). It also taught the people that they had to look after the priests. Sacrifices were one of the main sources of food for the priests. While they had a privileged status in the sanctuary, they were also needy and dependent on the generosity and obedience of the people. In a similar way, our church leaders have status in our communities, and with that great responsibilities. But they, like the ancient Israelite priests, are often dependant on the generosity and obedience of God’s people. What are the risks and benefits of this system?

    Chapters 8 – 10 Priestly ordination and failure

     

     

    Leviticus 8 – 9   Priestly opening ceremonies

     

    In these chapters, the priesthood finally begins … almost. There are a few ‘ordination’ ceremonies that must first take place.

     

    One of the paradoxes of priestly ordination is that it requires a priest to ordain a priest, but there’s no priest there to begin with. To resolve this paradox, Moses steps in to anoint and initiate the priests. He acts as God himself for the priests, just as he was like God before Pharaoh with Aaron as his prophet back in Exodus (7:1). In this instance, Aaron is his priest. Chapter 8 emphasizes Moses’ exact obedience to God by repeating the phrase ‘just as the Lord commanded’ seven times.

     

    In Leviticus 8:4-13 Moses washes Aaron and his sons, and then dresses Aaron in his priestly garments (cf. Exod 28-29). Aaron had holy underwear. Yes indeed! They included his tunic, sash, headdress, and pants. On top, Aaron wore an ephod, breastpiece, robe, and a gold plate. The robe was made of solid wool, but the breastpiece was made of mixed wool and linen. This latter mixture was prohibited among ordinary Israelites because it was considered holy (Lev 19:19; 22:11). Other elements of Aaron’s garments set him apart. His sash was also woven with wool threads dyed with the same red, purple, and blues as the Tabernacle’s curtains. The embroidered weave on the sash was just like the weave on the curtain separating the Tabernacle’s holy place and Holy of Holies (Exod 26:36; 27:16). The High Priest’s robe, made of blue-purple wool, looked just like the wool cloth that covered the ark when it was being carried (Num 4:6) (Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 503-504). The High Priest’s breastpiece featured 12 set stones, each one representing one of the 12 tribes. Each time the priest entered the Tabernacle, he ‘carried Israel’ before the Lord. So while not all Israel could enter, they were all represented. Finally, the High Priest carried the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece’s pocket. These were two stones used to ask questions of God. Apparently, God would reveal responses to answers in one stone or the other (e.g. 1 Sam 14:41).

    After vesting the High Priest, Moses anointed the tabernacle, all its implements, and the altar, making them holy. He also dressed the rest of the priests and anointed them. Afterwards, he offered a series of offerings to purify the priests (8:14-17), give the Lord a gift (8:18-21), ordain the priests for service (8:22-30), and ultimately, the reconcile the priests to God so that they could effectively serve (8:34). When Moses anointed Aaron, he touched the blood of a ram offering to his ‘right earlobe’, ‘right thumb’ and ‘right big toe’ before splashing the rest of the ram’s blood on the altar (8:23-24). This rite has baffled interpreters throughout the ages. Some argue that God wanted to show that the priest belonged to him ‘from head to toe.’ Others argue that the rite emphasised divine protection at the priest’s extremities, where they were most vulnerable (Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 528). One possible clue comes from the book of Ezekiel, where the (future) temple was to be dedicated by daubing blood on the altar’s top, middle, and bottom (Ezek 43:20). This was done to ‘decontaminate’ the altar. If this interpretation is correct, this rite showed in yet another way that the High Priest was purified—or even superpurified—for service in the Holy of Holies places of the Tabernacle (cf. Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 528-529).

     

    Chapter 9 begins on the ‘eighth day,’ a time marker that recalls the seven-day ordination ceremony in chapter 8. Now our focus shifts toward the altar and divine presence. Moses tells Aaron and the other priests to offer yet more offerings ‘because today the Lord will appear to you’ (9:4; cf. v6). This builds anticipation, as the reader looks forward to yet another dramatic divine appearance. So Aaron offers a bull for his purification (v8), before offering a goat for the people’s purification (v15) and an ox and ram for a sacrifice of communal well-being (v18). After blessing the people (v22), Moses and Aaron enter the meeting tent (v23), and then come out and bless the people again before …  Yahweh appeared to the people and ‘fire flew out from before the Lord and devoured the burnt offering and fat pieces on the altar’ (v24). The scene must have been electric, and almost certainly reminded the people of past appearances of God’s fiery presence, outlined below (along with future appearances):

    God’s fiery presence – key moments in the wilderness
    Exod 3:1-12 Burning bush & revelation of the divine name
    Exod 13:17-22; 14:19-31 Pillar of fire & cloud in the wilderness
    Exod 19:9-25; 24, 32-34 Fiery presence on Mount Sinai
    Exod 40:34-38 Glorious presence descends up on the Tabernacle
    Lev 9:23-24 Divine presence appears and consumes sacrifice at altar
    Num 10:29-36 Fiery cloud guiding in the wilderness
    Num 16, 20 Glory in judgement of Israel in the wilderness

     

    What’s noticeable about the story of God’s presence in the wilderness is that it is the same fire-and-cloud presence that met Moses in the burning bush, led the people from Egypt, met them on the mountain, and now initiates the sacrificial system. This suggests that God’s presence and sacrifice were intimately related. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since we have already noted that one of the key purposes of sacrifice was to provide access to divine presence. God wasn’t only met within the Holy of Holies (once a year for the High Priest). He was present to everyone at the altar.

     

    Leviticus 10   Failure at the start

     

    To understand the significance of Leviticus 10, we have to briefly step back to consider what the Tabernacle symbolised. For ancient Israelite readers, the story of the Tabernacle’s construction in Exodus sounded like the story of creation itself. Here are just a few reasons that Gary Anderson outlines:[1]

     

    (1) The Tabernacle’s plans are given to Moses in a seven-fold pattern of speeches, which conclude, like Genesis 1:1-2:4, with a description of the Sabbath (Exod 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12);

    (2) The account of making priestly garments includes the refrain ‘as the Lord commanded Moses’ seven times (Exod 39:1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31);

    (3) The account of making the Tabernacle includes the same refrain seven times (Exod 40:19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32);

    (4) The phrase ‘Moses finished the [Tabernacle] work’ (Exod 40:33) sounds just like the phrase used to describe the completion of creation in Gen 2:1-2.

     

    According to Leviticus, ‘the goal of all creation could be consummated’ at the start of the daily sacrifices. Humankind would be able to respond in a fitting way to God’s dwelling presence. Yet no sooner had the glorious presence of the Lord come out to light the altar and consume the sacrifice (Lev 9:24), then it came out again to consume two of Aaron’s sons, the priests Nadab and Abihu (10:2). The story tells us that they offered ‘strange fire’ in disobedience to God. We don’t really know what this means, but we do know that it was a major violation of God’s laws for priests.

     

    At this moment of greatest triumph—when creation itself had reached its worshipful goal—the priesthood failed. This would have reminded the people of the similarly sobering moment when the people received the law of God at Mount Sinai, and immediately violated the first two commands by making a false God and bowing down in worship (Exod 32). It could have also brought to mind the very first sin, when immediately (it seems) after receiving God’s law and enjoying his presence, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Sin seems to strike after moments of greatest joy and intimacy with God’s presence.

     

    If the disobedience and death of Nadab and Abihu weren’t enough, we also learn that Aaron’s remaining two sons Eleazar and Ithamar had failed to eat their purification offerings, as was the law (Lev 10:16-18). As Gary Anderson observes, ‘the story of the founding of the [sacrificial] cult ends with guilt distributed among the entire priestly family.’[2] This was a mess!

     

    In the midst of this great failure, we notice three things:

     

    1. Moses immediately reminds the remaining priests of their vocation (Lev 10:10-11). They had to distinguish between clean and unclean, holy and common, and teach the Israelites how to follow the law.
    2. Moses addresses the failures of those who remained. Sometimes the great moral failings of God’s people are surrounded by a thousand little compromises (Lev 10:16-18).
    3. The guilt of the priestly family will be dealt with, eventually. But that will have to wait until Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement).

     

    [1] See Gary A. Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 63, drawing from Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 142-145.

    [2] Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament, 65.

    Chapters 11 – 16 Laws about being clean and unclean, pure and impure

     

     

    Chapters 11 – 16   Cleanness and purification

     

    At this point in Leviticus, we reach a door in the book where only the brave go through. Behind that door lie food laws, skin disease, purification, mould, more skin disease, and more mould. If you press on the door, you walk into a world consumed with concern over ceremonial pollution and ritual process. While the world may seem strange and irrelevant, there are also valuable lessons to learn, lessons that many Christians miss because they tune out, glaze over, and fall asleep.

    So let’s make an agreement. If you read these chapters carefully, I’ll try to make ‘em as interesting as possible. Does that sound good? Bear in mind that the value these chapters hold only comes after putting in some hard work reading and studying, but that’s why you’re here, right?

     

    Leviticus 11   Clean and Unclean Foods

     

    You might be a vegan. I’m not, but I have vegan friends. When they come over, we have to ensure that our meals are free of any meat or animal derivative, since, well … they can’t eat that stuff. Once someone has been vegan for a while, they often see eating any meat or animal by-product as something that contaminates their body. In other words, in addition to moral objections to animal-related foods, they have health objections. But some might even take things a step further. Eating animals isn’t just wrong or unhealthy, it’s also gross. This is what sociologists call a ‘disgust response.’ For instance, vegans might question why anyone would eat a hen’s menstruation? Why would you eat bee spit?

     

    As you enter the world of veganism more fully, certain ritual and moral questions arise. Is it okay to eat eggs from a local free-range farm? Is it possible to be a part-time vegan? Is veganism safe for kids? Is it okay to eat honey (or bee spit, depending on your perspective)? How do you de-contaminate your kitchen if you’re becoming vegan? Is it okay to eat something that has touched meat? Perhaps some even wrestle with whether or not they can be friends with non-vegans.

     

    Clean and unclean food laws operated in a similar way, though the logic behind the laws is less clear than with veganism. Certain animals were simply forbidden. If an animal chewed its cud (the partially digested food that an animal eats when it has more than one stomach), but didn’t have a split hoof—no go! If it had split hooves but didn’t chew the cud—no go (Lev 11:1-8, 26)! This is why, by the way, Jewish people do not eat pork. These animals were not only morally wrong to eat, they contaminated, or made the people unfit for worship.

    Here are a few more prohibited animals:

    1. Any water creature that lacks fins and scales (11:9-12). Sorry, no lobster.
    2. Vultures and any other scavenger birds (11:13-19).
    3. ‘Swarming creatures’ with four legs, except locusts and beetles (phew!) (11:20-23)[1].
    4. Mice, rats, and lizards (11:29-31).
    5. Snakes (11:41-42).

     

    The people couldn’t even touch their dead bodies. If they did, they’d be ‘unclean until evening’ (11:24, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 39, 40, 46). If something you owned touched their dead carcasses, it would become unclean. If you had a stove, and found a dead rat in it, it had to be destroyed (11:35). But a cistern—probably because of the extreme cost and effort involved—would remain clean. Just don’t touch a floating dead mouse in that water.

     

    So why these animals and not others? Biblical scholars have debated this point for centuries. One of the best arguments is that each of these creatures didn’t fully conform to their class. They’re in the water, but don’t have fins and scales. They are on the ground, but slither along. Or perhaps they are associated with death—they’re vultures. The thinking here is that Israel’s laws helped them picture an ideal creation, where each thing fit its category. However, the Bible doesn’t give this as a reason. Others suggest that there are health concerns. Perhaps pork is just bad for you. That may be, but it proves difficult when later in the biblical story, God asks Peter to eat unclean animals (Acts 10:15-16)!

     

    The clearest reason is offered right there in Leviticus 11:44-45:

     

    I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy’ (Lev. 11:44-45).

     

    Eating ‘set-apart’ foods helped the people become ‘set-apart,’ like God. How? We don’t exactly know, but God told his people that it would happen.

     

    This chapter raises important questions for us. What are ways that we can live as a set-apart people through the ways we eat? Are there times we’re called to obey God without knowing the reasons why?

     

    Leviticus 12 (cf. 15:19 – 24)   Purification after Childbirth

     

    Let’s move from animal to human impurities. The adventure continues! And here we encounter one of the most perplexing laws in Leviticus—the declaration that women are unclean after childbirth, and the requirement that women offer a sin offering after purification. Why would childbirth, a sign of divine blessing since Genesis 1, require a sin offering (12:6, 8; cf. Lev 4)? And why would a male child render a woman impure for a shorter period of time than a female child (Lev 12:2-5)?

     

    Let’s consider these questions in order. First, as mentioned earlier, when Leviticus says ‘sin (hattat) offering,’ you can typically substitute the phrase ‘purification offering.’ Here we are almost certainly correct to use the phrase ‘purification offering,’ since the result of the offering in v7 is cleanness. Moreover, a similar offering is used elsewhere for the completion of a vow (a good thing! Num 6) and the dedication of a new altar (8:15). (Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 253). Clearly the hattat offering was not offered only when someone did something wrong. It was also after something good, like giving birth.

     

    Second, it was likely the loss of blood—a symbol of life—that accounts for the uncleanness that the woman (not the child) experienced. Notice the emphasis on her loss of blood (v4, 5, 7). In addition, some suggest that women were viewed as inferior by the authors of Leviticus, who only allowed male priests. Leviticus 27 states that males were redeemed for vows at a higher price than women (v2-7). Yet, the length of uncleanness is not necessarily a sign that boys were valued more than girls. Some suggest that ancients had beliefs about girls causing a greater bloodflow than boys. Others suggest that this was a practice that Israel simply borrowed from its neighbours, without any particular rationale. Another possibility is that the longer period of time corresponds to the vulnerability of women (and girls). Samuel Balentine writes, ‘A woman’s loss of blood at childbirth leaves her in a weakened condition that to the Israelite mind makes her susceptible to sickness and potentially to death. The same threat applies to her daughter, who as a mother-to-be will one day share the experience of losing some of her life in order to bring life into the world’ (Balentine, Leviticus, 103). Finally, some suggest that the lengthier periods of uncleanness correspond to a higher value. If so, then it’s giving birth to a girl that the author values.

    In sum, because women lose blood during childbirth, they needed to go through a process of ceremonial purification before re-joining the worship services.

     

    Leviticus 13 – 14   Skin Diseases and Mould

     

    There was an experiment I read about where individuals were asked if they would drink juice, even if a cockroach was dropped in it, stirred around, and then removed. Of course people refused. They were then asked if they’d drink the juice if it was filtered, and then boiled to remove any contaminant. They still refused, even though they understood rationally that the juice was clean.[2]

    The point of the experiment was to show that our notions of contamination aren’t necessarily rational. They’re not always based on science—even the science we know. And we all know that toilet bowls are typically cleaner than kitchen sinks, right?

     

    When it comes to looking at why certain skin diseases disqualified Israelites from participating in the life of the community, or in worship, it’s easy to say, ‘That’s ridiculous!’ We easily forget that our own ideas about contamination aren’t always logical.

     

    Leviticus 13-14 focuses on skin disease. And believe it or not … wait for it … houses could even get skin disease. It’s the same word in Hebrew (tsara‘at). Really, the chapters focus on various skin problems and house mould. The common denominator in both chapters is that tsara‘at defiled. It rendered people and things impure, and thus ill-suited for a camp in which the divine presence dwelled. They had to remain outside the camp and cry ‘Unclean!’ to passers-by for seven days (13:45-46). Let’s look at a few key details from these chapters.

     

    1. Priests only cared about skin disease that goes beneath the surface or is spreading (e.g., Lev 13:3-4, 25, 30-34). If the skin problem acted like an infection, the priests would declare that person unclean for seven days, after which they’d go back for a check-up.

     

    1. Priests are not doctors. Priests did not offer medical exams or advice. They didn’t have medicine, and the unclean person was not helped, medically speaking, by living outside the camp. They simply examined, and if after a seven or fourteen-day quarantine (13:32-33) the individual’s skin improved or didn’t get worse, they would declare that person clean. That person would wash their clothes and return home. Interestingly, in the Old Testament, ‘it is the prophet who prescribes the healing rite, not the priest’ (Milgrom, quoting Wright and Jones, Leviticus 1-16, 817). In Kings, Elisha instructs the Syrian commander Naaman in how to cure his skin disease (2 Kgs 5). Isaiah also gives King Hezekiah instructions for his healing (2 Kgs 20:7).

     

    1. Skin disease law was written to help us meditate on our mortality. Leviticus 13-14 doesn’t need to be as long as it is. Legal texts are often case studies, and don’t need to be comprehensive. However, Leviticus 13-14 goes through all sorts of possible skin problems, and then proceeds to garments and houses. These chapters likely move slowly to cause us to reflect on mortality, the breakdown of our bodies. As Milgrom observes, ‘The main clue for understanding the place of (skin diseases) in the impurity system is the fact that it is an aspect of death: its bearer is treated like a corpse’ (819; cf. Num 12:12; Job 18:13).

     

    1. Death was incompatible with the Tabernacle. The reason that skin-diseased individuals were excluded from the camp for seven-day intervals was because the decay on their skin was a like a picture of dying. Israelites weren’t in denial about death. They were well acquainted. But the point was that their place of worship was designed to point people toward the God of life. It was to be a place that symbolised the eternal living God. The realm outside the camp—the wilderness—was symbolic of the realm of death, away from the place of life where God was present.

     

    1. The sacrificial requirements didn’t heal the person, but rather, they marked the fact that healing has already happened, that life had returned (Lev 14:1-32). Leviticus 14:1-32 outlines various sacrificial requirements for individuals with skin diseases. Like the woman who gave birth, the skin-diseased person needed to bring a ‘sin’ offering. By now, we should be acquainted with the idea that ‘sin’ offering means ‘purification’ offering in most cases. It’s not morally wrong to have eczema.

     

    1. The purification ceremony removed contaminants from the camp and reconciled the worshipper to God. The elaborate rituals outlined in Leviticus 14 are designed to bring the outcast back into the worshipping community. The priest would go outside the camp, declare the person clean, and perform a bird slaughter and release ceremony (v1-9). One bird was slaughtered over fresh water (v5), while the other was dipped in that blood and water, and released into the countryside (v7). This likely symbolised the removal of purification from that individual and the community. It anticipates the scape-goat ceremony in Leviticus 16.  After the bird was released, the individual brought various offerings to the sanctuary for further purification, this time, ‘before the Lord’ (v11, 18). They were anointed with oil on the head, right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe (v14). He also sprinkled oil ‘before the Lord’ (v16, 27). The idea seemed to be that the individual and Yahweh were now re-unified through this bonding ceremony.

     

    1. You really don’t want mould in your house. If mould was found in a house, they’d call on a priest. The priest/inspector would come out (14:36-38), and look for below-the-surface mould (v37). If after seven days the mould spread, those stones would be pulled out and discarded, and the house scraped of its plaster (v39-42). If it persisted further, it was a tear down (v43-47). If/once the house was deemed clean, they performed the same bird-release ceremony performed for humans, but this time the slaughtered bird’s blood was sprinkled around the house to purify it (v48-53).

     

     

    Leviticus 16   Genital Emissions

     

    When’s the last time you heard a sermon on genital emissions? I bet you never have – perhaps for good reason! Perhaps a year-long study of Leviticus 15? In all seriousness, ancient Israelite legislation about genital emissions can feel wildly irrelevant to Christians today. This chapter focuses on male and female emissions, mainly nocturnal (male) emissions and female menstruation, and the rites of purification such individuals would need. But before you skim read, consider a few key points from this chapter.

    1. The loss of male semen and female blood was likely associated with the loss of life. For those reasons, they caused impurity and if not addressed, or if treated lightly, they would affect Israel’s relationship with God’s presence and threaten Israel’s life. Note the word of caution at the end of chapter 15: ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them‘ (15:31).
    2. Uncleanness could transfer. If a man had a nocturnal emission and someone else sat on his bed, they would become unclean (15:4). If anyone touched the man with the emission—and he had failed to wash—they would become unclean (15:6). If a menstruating woman sat on a chair, that chair would become unclean (15:20). If anyone touched her bed while she was menstruating, they’d become unclean (15:21). You get the idea. Uncleanness transferred, not cleanness. This is what makes one of Jesus’ earliest miracles so significant. He met an unclean beggar and before making him clean, he touched him and then declared him clean (Mark 1:41).
    3. Leviticus 15 envisions a move from uncleanness à washing à purification at the Tabernacle à reconciliation. The author of this chapter wants its readers to imagine a journey from a place of uncleanness, where they become separate from their kin and excluded from worship toward the Tabernacle, where they join other worshippers and reunite with God. The point of this law is to emphasise God’s desire to move his people toward himself in worship.

    The chapter on genital emissions is short (thankfully, perhaps), though not to be ignored. It lays important groundwork for considering the anxieties over uncleanness that we see among Jesus’ contemporaries in the Gospels. The chapter also shows us another important meditation on symbols of death, and Yahweh’s desire to move humanity toward himself; the God of life.

     

    Leviticus 16   Sanctuary Purification—The Day of Atonement

     

    The Day of Atonement is the most significant ritual in the book of Leviticus. It concludes the first major section of the book (Leviticus 1-16), and deals with the most pressing issue in the book—keeping Yahweh’s residence free of uncleanness. If that residence became defiled, Israel would be placed at risk, and God’s holy presence would move away. However, Yahweh clearly tolerated a degree of uncleanness, which accumulated throughout the year. But prolonged uncleanness due to sin, especially moral sin, was not infinitely tolerated. As we see in the book of Ezekiel (especially chs. 9-11), God will not share his sanctuary with idolatry, murder, and immorality. The uncleanness tracked into the sanctuary is, in the words of my colleague Brad Jersak, ‘the dust of death.’ Thus, the primary purpose of the Day of Atonement ritual is to cleanse the sanctuary of the dust of death so that it remained a place hospitable to Yahweh—the God of life.

    Here are the key parts of this ritual:

    1. Throughout the year, sins and impurities affected the Tabernacle, making it unclean. These sins and impurities defiled even the Holy of Holies, where God’s glorious presence dwelled.
    2. In preparation for the ritual, the High Priest would take two goats, and select one by lots for sacrifice and another for the wilderness (16:7-10).
    3. Before entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest had to offer a bull to purify himself and his household (Lev 16:6, 11), and the first goat to purify the people (16:15).
    4. To prepare his entrance into the Holy of Holies, the High Priest also lit the incense altar, which was placed right outside the Holy of Holies (16:12-13). This would create a secondary cloud, around the cloud, that covered the glory of the Lord. This was going to be intense!
    5. The High Priest took the blood of the bull and goat, and sprinkled it before the ark 7x (16:14-15), the Holy Place (16:16b-17), and the horns of the altar 7x (16:18-19) to atone—or make reconciliation—for the people’s impurities, sins, and rebellions (16:16a).
    6. The High Priest would take the second goat, the scapegoat, and after confessing Israel’s sins over it, send it out into the wilderness. This goat would ‘carry on itself all [Israel’s] offenses to a desolate region, then the goat will be released into the wild’ (16:22).
    7. The High Priest would wash, change, and offer a final burnt offering for himself and the people, in addition to a few other final details (16:23-28).

     

    Imagine this ritual as a giant, once-per-year spring cleaning of Yahweh’s house, which the people had dirtied throughout the year. The cleaning agent is blood, and after sweeping out the house, the dirt was placed on a bin lorry (the scapegoat) and carried off to the tip (the wilderness). But the people who dirtied the house still needed reconciliation. They’d made Yahweh’s house filthy after all! So after cleaning, they bring a gift to Yahweh’s house (the final burnt offering), which reaffirms the relationship puts both parties on good terms.

     

    But there’s another part of this day that we should not miss—forgiveness. The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur in Hebrew, is a day when God provided a way for the forgiveness of sins (16:16, 21, 31-34). That forgiveness was a reminder that Yahweh, Israel’s God, was a God ‘abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’ (Exodus 34:7).

     

    [1] I know, insects by definition have four legs. It may be that Leviticus is stating a minimum, and is simply referring to animals that don’t walk upright (see Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 664; Wenham, Leviticus, 175).

    [2] Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Cambridge, MA: Lutterworth Press, 2012), 23.

    Chapters 17-27  Ethical and Ritual Laws for the People

     

     

    Leviticus 17-27   A holy people

     

    Chapters 1-16 focus primarily on laws for priests; how to sacrifice, how to determine skin diseases, how to perform the Day of Atonement ritual, etc. Chapters 17-27 are for the whole people of God. This distinction between laws for priests (chs. 1-16) and the people (chs. 17-27) isn’t hard and fast, but provides a useful way of describing the major shift that Leviticus makes toward the beginning of chapter 17. These chapters contain the famous command to ‘love your neighbour’ (19:18) and other laws that apply to people’s lives outside of the sanctuary. The Tabernacle will still make a few appearances, but there’s much more that the

     

    Leviticus 17   Blood and meat at the sanctuary

     

    Leviticus insists that domestic animals (ox, sheep, or goat) needed to be killed at the Tabernacle. In other words, if an animal was sacrifice-able, you had to schlep it to the sanctuary to butcher it (17:3-7). Admittedly, this sounds demanding. Imagine every single Israelite traveling to the Tabernacle just to kill a sheep for dinner? But Leviticus is clear, no such thing was allowed. And not to put too fine a point on it, but to slaughter an animal elsewhere was to commit bloodshed (v4)! Violators would be ‘cut off’ (either exiled or killed). It was like murder. But why? What’s so wrong with killing a sheep for private consumption? Didn’t God get enough from sacrifices?

     

    There are a few issues to untangle here. First, the journey to the Tabernacle wouldn’t have been a major hardship for Israelites in the wilderness. It was right in the centre of their camp. Later legislation (Deut 12:20-21) permits Israelites to slaughter locally if the sanctuary was too far. Second, the equation between local slaughter and murder (Lev 17:4) is indeed stark, but there are a few key theological principles at work here:

     

    1. Leviticus suggests that a portion of every animal belonged to Yahweh, the best portion, the fat (17:6);
    2. Leviticus insists that the blood of that animal belonged to Yahweh. Thus, slaughtering (sacrifice-able) animals locally was like stealing from God.
    3. The prohibition on local slaughter was part of a broader prohibition on consuming, or otherwise pouring out animal blood away from the altar. Leviticus 17:11 states that ‘a creature’s life is in the blood’, and all life belonged to God. But the law doesn’t stop with that point. Notice that Lev 17:11 also states that ‘I have given [the blood] to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar.’ In other words, it was for Israel’s own good that they bring blood to the Lord, since by that blood Israel had life!
    4. These laws would have the added benefit of weaning the people off their idolatrous and demonic practices (17:7).

     

    In sum, these laws provided the people with a literal flesh-and-blood reminder of the value of animal life to God, and of his insistence that his people bring sacrificial meat to him. These belonged to God.

     

    Non-sacrifice-able animals—for instance deer or gazelle—could be eaten anywhere, as long as the people drained and covered its blood (17:13-14). Consuming blood was absolutely prohibited. Also, if they ate the meat of any animal that died naturally, they could do so, but had to bathe in water and remain unclean until evening (17:15-16). It wasn’t wrong, but it did bring uncleanness.

     

    Leviticus 18   Sexual Immorality

     

    In this section we will focus on a passage that address various sexual prohibitions. These passages are often cited, frequently misused, and seldom understood. Let’s try to make sense of it.

     

    The chapter begins by emphasising Israel’s status as a nation set apart (18:1-5). Israel was holy, and therefore on seven occasions in ch. 18 alone the Lord says that Israel should not imitate the practices of the Canaanites. The Canaanites, or native inhabitants of the land of Israel, are depicted here as sexually immoral. Israel was to be different because of Yahweh; he is a God holy and set apart.

     

    Leviticus 18:6-18 outlines a number of prohibited sexual relationships. They focus on avoiding sex with a close relative. Sex with a close relative would ‘uncover the nakedness of X,’ (18:6, ESV) with X referring to an individual offended spiritually and socially by that sexual union. To ‘uncover the nakedness’ of someone refers to the shame associated with sex in one’s family. That shame could affect the sexual partner or another related individual, such as that partner’s spouse. Leviticus prohibits such relations because they were ‘your own flesh,’ which basically means a physical extension of yourself. In other words, sexual relations ought to happen between two who are not your own flesh, or selves. Moreover, sexual relations between two who became one flesh (Gen 2:23) through marriage should be honoured.

    The ‘you’ in these chapters are almost always masculine plural (except 18:23b), and thus the laws have a distinctly (though not exclusively) male bias. In addition, the laws typically focused on how sexual immorality affects men. This male perspective can be challenging for female readers, and needs to be acknowledged and named as a part of the world out of which this law came. For instance, Lev 18:7-8 states that having sex with one’s mother brought shame on the father (literally, it ‘uncovered his nakedness’). Similarly, sex with one’s grandchildren would shame you (masculine singular; v10). Sex with your paternal aunt brought shame on your paternal uncle (18:14). The same logic governs sex with your daughter-in-law or sister-in-law. However, the chapter also recognises that illicit sex can negatively affect women as well (e.g., v17-18). Leviticus 18:13 states that sex with your aunt was prohibited simply because she was your mother’s sister. So while the text’s primary concerns are with how certain prohibited sexual acts shamed men, we see glimpses of a truth known in other parts of scripture that women and men are equally affected by sexual acts.

     

    Verses 19-23 shift from incest to other prohibited acts. Most have to do with sex. Adultery was prohibited (v20), though curiously here, it refers only to sex with a woman who was betrothed or married. In other words, if a married man had sex with an unattached woman, it was not classified legally as adultery. So there was no death penalty. However, other texts in the Old Testament indicate that sex by a married man with an unattached woman was wrong (Exod 22:15-16; Deut 22:28-29).

     

    Sex between a man and a man was also prohibited (v22). Debate exists regarding the nature of this prohibited union. The verse literally says, ‘you should not lie as the lying down of a woman’ in sex. Leviticus 20:13 extends the logic of 18:22 (just as 20:16 extends the logic of 20:15 and 18:23) and states that both partners were liable to punishment by death. The issues in these texts are probably two-fold:

    (a) They exhibit a concern to avoid mixing categories. As we know from the first part of Leviticus, priests were concerned with maintaining clear distinctions, and avoiding things that were considered unnatural. So, a man should not lie down like a woman in sex, because, according to ancient culture, that is what a woman does as the receptive partner. Note also the ‘confusion’ of family relations in v6-18, and the ‘confusion’ of human with animals in v23. All of these verses were insistent on avoiding mixed categories. Avoiding these mixtures was connected to Yahweh’s concern that Israel forsake the practices of Egypt and Canaan (see intro in 18:1-5). Whether homosexuality as such was a concern, or more broadly, the need to maintain clear boundaries and distinctiveness—the basis of holiness (cf. similar concerns over family confusion in 20:11-12, 14, and, again, with animals in vv. 15-16).

    (b) Leviticus was also concerned to avoid the misappropriation of the male sperm. Spilling sperm on the ground or using it with another man was likely seen as contrary to the creational mandate to be fruitful and multiply (this is more conjectural, however).

     

    More generally, books like Exodus and Leviticus imagine a community in which the ‘ideals’ of creation are enacted, especially for those approaching the sanctuary. In other words, the sanctuary was to be a place where God’s people re-entered Eden. This is probably why a priest could not marry a widow (Leviticus 21:14). It wasn’t that priests didn’t care about widows, but that the iconic status of a priest and the entire worship system could not be compromised by embodying something that was part of ‘fallen’ creation (namely, widowhood). In priestly literature, homosexuality was considered to be a confusion of categories, and possibly a violation of the creational mandate in Genesis 1, and thus should have no part in the ‘new creation’ community of Israel.

    It is important to add, however, the importance of using Leviticus with due caution in contemporary debates about homosexuality in the church. First, the chapter is silent on female-female sex. This is probably due to the male focus in Leviticus. Second, the same book that forbids sex between men, also prohibit tattoos, mixing wool and linen, and so on. In other words, a whole range of forbidden mixtures applied back then that no longer do. The church needs to work out its ethic of sexuality with a whole range of texts in Scripture, and with due attention to ways that the great story of God has developed (cf. Isa 56:1-8; Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 6:9).

     

    Leviticus 19   On being a good neighbour

     

    Leviticus 19 is one of the most important chapters in the book of Leviticus. This is one of the few chapters in the book that focuses on relationships between people that have little or nothing to do with priests or the sanctuary. The chapter has a dual focus: becoming like God and loving your neighbour. For Leviticus, becoming like God means loving your neighbour as yourself (Lev 19:18). But this chapter goes even further. Becoming like God and loving your neighbour means loving the foreigner and immigrant as yourself (19:34). With this brilliant twist, Leviticus brings together three that we so often divide: our pursuit of holiness, love for (our own) neighbour, and love for those who are not our own.

     

    The key to this radical integration of holiness, love for those like us, and love for those we often fear is found through a process of remembering. They had to remember their covenant with Yahweh. But more importantly, they had to remember that they too were slaves in Egypt. They were the foreigner at one time.

     

    But if loving the foreigner weren’t enough of a challenge, this giant of a chapter also challenges Israel not to hate their neighbour in their hearts—the co-worker, the annoying housemate, the offensive boss—but instead to speak up and reprimand (19:17-18). Only by speaking do we give others the opportunity to apologise and receive forgiveness. We also avoid taking revenge, the fruit of stewing grudges and ‘bearing sin’ and malice in our hearts (19:17). We’re to place all desire for revenge in God’s hands, and let him take care of any personal repayment (19:18).

     

    It is only by loving God, neighbour, and foreigner, and by ridding their hearts of malice and hatred, that Israel could fulfil Yahweh’s command to ‘be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ (19:2). Love and holiness were joined at the hip.

     

    Leviticus 20

     

    Leviticus 20 covers some of the same territory as chapter 18. It’s as if the writer said, ‘Hang on a minute, I need to go back over a few things. I want to make sure you’ve got this.’ So there’s some old and some new.

     

    First off, don’t sacrifice your children to Molech, the Ammonite God (18:1-6). While the physical sacrifice of children is hopefully not something you’d consider, this passage becomes relevant when we consider the ways modern society might ask us to sacrifice our children. For example, the British or American government might want us to encourage our children to join the military and be willing to ‘give their all’ for their country.

     

    Secondly, Leviticus 20 designates a range of rather brutal consequences for violating God’s laws about honouring parents (v7-9), sexual misconduct (v10-21), and communing with the dead (i.e., ‘necromancy’ v27). God wanted his people to live separately and learn how to discern, or distinguish, good from evil, clean from unclean. This involves letting God define what is good or evil, and not living according to customary Canaanite practices (v24-26), which Israel also practised at various times.

     

    Third, God wanted his people to eagerly desire and enjoy the goodness of the land, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (v24). If they violated—indeed polluted!—the land through relational and sexual misdeeds the land would ‘vomit’ them out. In other words, if Israel broke the covenant, the land itself would convulse in agony and vomit in disgust. The land was made for covenant fidelity.

     

     

    Leviticus 21 – 22   Holiness of priests

     

    Leviticus 21-22 commands priests to remain holy. They were ‘holy to … God‘ (21:6) and on that basis, they were to be ‘holy to you,’ the people. Today, the idea that leaders are holier than the rest of God’s people smacks of elitism, and pride. We use the phrase ‘holier than thou’ to describe self-righteous status-seekers. But to understand the heart of holiness in Leviticus 21-22, we have to step into a different world. In the world of Leviticus, the sanctuary and all in its orbit were modelling something special and unique. They were pointing the way toward the world to come, a world when the impurity of death no longer held sway, and where disease and dis-formations no longer hinder. In other words, priests enacted a liturgical drama of Eden restored. To play that role effectively, they had to obey strict rules that didn’t apply to all the people. Here’s a sketch of what they entailed:

     

    21:1-4 Priests could not touch any dead body, except for their closest relatives.

    21:5-9 Priests couldn’t mark their bodies in any way. They also couldn’t marry a divorced or promiscuous woman.

    21:10-15 The High Priest couldn’t go near any dead body, not even his parents.

    21:16-23 Anyone with a disease, disability, crushed testicles (i.e., eunuchs) couldn’t enter the sanctuary area to make an offering. Similarly, priests with the same couldn’t offer sacrifices.

    22:1-9 – Remind the priests that they could not serve at the altar, eat sacrifices, or touch something dedicated to God if in a state of ceremonial uncleanness.

    22:10-16 – Only priests and their household members could eat the holy offerings. Priests needed these offerings to live, since they weren’t given large tracts of land on which to farm or raise animals. The offerings and ‘tithes’ of the Israelites supported the Levites and priests.

    22:17-25 – Just like priests were supposed to be flawless, so too the sacrificial offerings.

    22:26-33 – These verses include various animal-related laws, and conclude with an encouragement to keep God’s laws, and by so doing, they’d ‘sanctify‘, or keep as holy, God’s name.

     

    These rules are strict, and might even sound unkind, but it’s important to recall their purpose. They point the way toward a restored world and a restored humanity, where the angels of heaven we say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God‘ (Rev 21:3).

     

    Leviticus 23   Holy parties

     

    The Torah outlines the Israelite festivals in several places, and it can become confusing to keep them all straight, since information about them is found scattered across different books. Exodus twice mentions the festivals in brief (Exod 23:14-17; 34:18-26), and they occur in Numbers 28-29, Deuteronomy 16:1-17 and then again here in Leviticus 23. Deuteronomy best explains the social purpose and experience of the festivals. They were for all in the Israelite camp (slave, free, rich, poor, foreigner and native-born) to experience joy before the Lord. Numbers gives us the detail of the festivals. Leviticus explains the holiness of the festivals.

     

    The three festivals in Leviticus 23 include:

    (1) Unleavened Bread festival, which celebrates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Lev 23:4-8);

    (2) Pentecost, which celebrates the harvest (Lev 23:9-14), and

    (3) Tabernacles, which recalls Israel’s time in the wilderness (Lev 23:33-36).

     

    These were known as the three ‘pilgrimage festivals’ in the Old Testament. They were the three times per year when all Israelites were expected to make the journey to the sanctuary. Of course, here in the wilderness, access to the sanctuary was an everyday occurrence.

     

    Leviticus calls the festivals ‘sacred assemblies,’ or ‘holy convocations,’ 11 times in the chapter. As we’ve discussed many times, Leviticus is a book about holiness. God is set apart. He transcends the physical world, his character is utterly unique, and his power is unrivalled. But rather than using his holiness to put a barrier between humans and himself, he bridges the gap and invites his people to become like him. One way he did that was through these festivals. To emphasise the holiness of the festivals, Leviticus uses the number seven, the number of holiness. Note the following patterns from this chapter. There are seven holy days outlined; seven days where ‘ordinary work’ was forbidden; the Unleavened Bread festival and Tabernacles were both seven days long, and the third festival, Passover, occurred seven weeks and seven days after the ‘Omer’ offering; and most festivals occur in the seventh month. Do you get the idea? These assemblies were holy.

     

    The idea that these festivals occurred at the sanctuary might seem like a kill-joy. How could a party at the sanctuary, much less a holy party at the sanctuary, produce joy? Part of what made these festivals so joyous was that they brought together all the tribes of Israel into one place. Families that had to move apart because of work or hardship would have been reunited temporarily. Also, the experience of journeying to the tabernacle would have been an exciting time of reunion with other Israelites making the same journey. Plus, there would have been abundant food and drink! If we combine the emphasis on holiness and joy, we can more fully understand these festivals. They were set apart times for joyous celebration.

     

    Leviticus 24   Light and darkness

     

    Leviticus 24 begins with light, and ends with darkness. Verses 1-9 describe the oil lampstand that sat within the Tabernacle’s holy place. The priests were required to keep the lamp constantly lit with pure oil. Then in v6 the law shifts to the other side of the holy place, where the Table of the Presence sat. The priests were to set out two rows of 6 loaves of bread ‘before the LORD.’ Almost every time that the Old Testament refers to the Bread of the Presence, it makes a point that they were set out ‘before the LORD’ (cf. Exod 25:30; 40:23). Why make a point of that? It seems that the light of the lampstands somehow represented the light of Yahweh’s presence. The light shone on the table, reminding Israel that they were to live continually in the light of Yahweh.

     

    The parallel verse in Numbers makes abundantly clear that the lamps cast their light forward: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand‘” (Num. 8:2). The light of Yahweh was to shine upon Israel!

     

    Verse 7 states that the people were to put incense on the bread as a ‘memorial’ portion, or literally, a ‘calling-to-mind’ portion. The idea was that the bread sent forth an aroma that brought Israel continually to God’s mind, as they basked in the light of his glorious presence. What an image!

     

    But all of this comes crashing down with a rather disturbing story in v10-14. This is the second and final disturbing story in Leviticus, the first being the fire that consumed Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10). Both bring sober reminders of Yahweh’s holiness; first to priests (Lev 10) and now to the people (Lev 24). A young man, born to an Egyptian father and Israelite mother, got into a fight with an Israelite. In the process, the young man cursed Yahweh’s name. Moses brought the case to the LORD, who ruled that he was to be stoned by all who heard the curse (v14). At first we don’t know if the sentence was carried out, since the passage diverges for a few moments into other serious crimes (v17-22). Verse 23 confirms, however, that the young man was indeed put to death. This is an unsettling reminder that Yahweh would not suffer dishonour to his name (v16-17). The emphasis in v17-22 on capital crimes suggests that Israel saw cursing Yahweh’s name as analogous to attempting murder. But the point of the story is that by desecrating Yahweh’s name, humanity only injures itself.

     

     

    Leviticus 25-27   Redemption

     

    The word ‘redemption’ occurs 19 times in Leviticus 25, and 12 times in Leviticus 27, so we’ll read these three together as a unit.[1]

     

    Leviticus 25   The Year of Jubilee

     

    You might recall that the number seven played a major role in Leviticus 23. The festivals wore holiness on their sleeves, as it were. The Year of Jubilee is no different in that regard. It’s rooted in the idea that holiness and seven-ness were intimately connected.

     

    More important and breath-taking, however, is the ethical vision of this chapter, a chapter that revolutionised ancient economics, shaped the life and ministry of Jesus, and has continued to inspire the economic vision of many since.

     

    Verses 1-7: These verses describe the ‘fallow year,’ which occurred every seven years. The land enjoyed its own Sabbath rest, free from planting or harvesting. Instead, humans and animals, slave and free, just took freely from what the land produced.

     

    Verses 8-55: The Year of Jubilee occurred every 50th year—i.e., every 7×7+1 years. This was the year in which a ram’s horn proclaimed liberty, and each person returned to their ancestral land and family. Unlike the fallow year (vv1-7), or even the year of debt release (Deut 15), the Year of Jubilee reunited families and lands. It was like a giant reset button for the entire economy. It was as if every 50 years God re-apportioned the land to the tribes, just as he would in the days of Joshua.

    There were several reasons why families and lands might get fragmented. Someone might sell part of their land because of hardship (v25). They might lose their whole land, and end up a worker on their own ancestral land (v35). They might have to sell themselves as a slave to another Israelite (v39) or even a foreigner in their own land (v47). All these hardships tore apart what God intended to be kept together: family and land. The Year of Jubilee gave the people an opportunity to re-enact the exodus and conquest story every 50 years.

    But the Jubilee might be frowned upon by the wealthy. Why should they cancel debts and give back land that they rightfully owned? Because they were all redeemed slaves, bought by God (v42). Thus, God reminds the people of two things: (a) their own story of slavery and redemption, and (b) the fact that every single Israelite is their brother, and not their slave (mentioned 6 times in v35-55). The second verse of the Christmas Carol ‘O Holy Night’ captures this sentiment:

    Truly He taught us to love one another
    His law is love and His gospel is peace
    Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
    And in His name, all oppression shall cease
    Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
    Let all within us praise His holy name.

     

    Leviticus 26   Covenant blessings and curses

     

    In this chapter, Moses outlines the terms of the covenant between God and Israel, providing them with the benefits and warnings of covenant loyalty and disobedience. Before getting into the details, it’s worth knowing what we mean by covenant. A covenant is a partnership between God and his human partners. Through that partnership, God accomplishes his purposes. In other words, God chooses not to work alone. That partnership comes with expectations, just like a marriage contract might include a set of mutual obligations. Here they’re set out in terms of obligations, blessings, and curses … with an added word about hope beyond disaster:

     

    v1-2 – Obligation to remain loyal to Yahweh alone:

    Israel was not to worship any other Gods, and they were to keep God’s ‘Sabbaths’ (or festivals and holy days like the Day of Atonement) and respect God’s dwelling place.

    v3-13 – Blessings of obedience:

    If Israel followed God, their land would yield abundant harvests. They would remain secure in the land (free from enemy threats), and most importantly, God would dwell among them.

    v4-39 – Threats because of disloyalty:

    These verses outline in a series of progressively worse scenarios how disloyalty will eventually push Israel out of its own land.

    v40-46 – Hope of redemption:

    If the people humble themselves in exile, God would restore them and fulfil his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

     

    Leviticus 27   Vows

     

    If someone wanted to dedicate a person to the Lord, they could do so by letting them serve in the temple, or in some other way. Samuel was dedicated to God by his mother Hannah. A dedicated person could be ‘redeemed,’ or bought back, at a set price. It might sound strange to put a price on human life, but that wasn’t the point. Instead, these chapters allow people to redeem a life that they vow to God, but for various reasons might need to have around (v1-8). In addition to people, they could also redeem an animal (v9-13), a house (v14-15), or a portion of land (v16-25) that they had dedicated to God. A priest would assign these a fair value and a person could then redeem it. However, they couldn’t give God the firstborn livestock or sheep, since it already belonged to God (v26-27). Certain items given to God could be bought back at a higher value—minimising the tendency to take back gifts. The reason Leviticus ends on this note relates to the theme of redemption. To redeem is to buy back. In this small way, the people put into practice what God did for them when he redeemed them from the power of the Egyptians.

     

    [1] Noted by Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, 377.

    Leviticus 8-10 "Priestly Ordination and Failure" >
      The Apprentice - Helping apprentices of Jesus think through the applications
    • Overall Message
    • /
    • Leading Imperatives
    • /
    • Applications
    • /
    • Holy Habits

    The overall message of ‘Leviticus’:

    Leviticus is all about how a holy, powerful transcendent God came to live and abide within a community of men and women, and the changes that took place enabling that to continue.

    The leading imperatives:

     

    There are a great number of imperatives in the book of Leviticus. These are arguably the leading ones …

     

    20:7   Consecrate yourselves and be holy; because I am holy.

    19:18   Love your neighbour as yourself.

    19:34   Love (the foreigner) as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

     

    Applications:

     

    Under the Old Covenant the Jews were commanded to practice the sacrificial rituals in accordance with the laws stated in Leviticus. In the New Covenant, ‘by one sacrifice (Christ) has made perfect for all time those who are being made perfect’ (Hebrews 10:14).

    Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives.  These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)

     

    The Israelites were commanded to offer (costly) burnt offerings twice daily on behalf of the community. Burnt offerings were often associated with saying thank you to God, and were for approaching his presence. Consider setting up patterns living through which you develop rituals of thankfulness in your life.

    Leading Imperatives >
    main Questions - Important questions directly from the text

    Question 1 -

    How does the language of uncleanness operate in the church today? (Do a brief word search on ‘defile’ in Scripture to see examples from the New Testament).


    Question 2 -

    What do the laws in chapters 1-10 teach us about the meaning of ‘sacrifice’? How does that meaning differ from ways we use that term in the Church?


    Question 3 -

    Do chapters 11-16 provide any relevance for thinking about exclusion or inclusion in the church today?


    watch video

    Question 4 -

    Consider Jesus’ use of Lev 19:18 and 34 in Luke 10:25ff. How does Jesus encourage us to read the law (using Leviticus)?


    dessert course

    A prayer

    Commentaries

    Suggested Sermon Series

    Questions

    • A prayer -

    A prayer based on Leviticus

     

    Holy God of Israel, we bring you an offering of thanksgiving and praise because in Christ you have ‘tabernacled’ among us, calling us to draw near and receive forgiveness, to be made clean and become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We’re aware of our shortcomings and sin, but even more of the fact that Jesus our High Priest has made atonement for us. We pray that as we become transformed by your holy presence, we would love our neighbour as ourselves, love the foreigner as ourselves, and love the land for which your blood was also shed. By the power of your Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus, Amen.

      Commentaries - Introducing the best commentaries

    Recommended Commentaries on Leviticus

     

    Gorman, Frank. Divine Presence and Community: A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus. ITC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

     

    Longman III, Tremper. Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship. The Gospel According to the Old Testament; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2001.

     

    Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. NICOT 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979.

     

      Suggested Sermon Series -

    Suggested Sermon Series on Leviticus

     

    Matt Lynch writes: Christians might be tempted to skip Leviticus in their preaching, for reasons we’ve already discussed. However, it is worth hitting the main themes in the book, in order, and then linking each to key New Testament ideas. I also suggest doing a study of Hebrews either alongside or after your sermon series on Leviticus.

     

     

    Text Title Theme
    Leviticus 9:24

     

    ‘The presence of God’ Main themes: It’s important to set the scene for this book before jumping into the details. I suggest a sermon on themes of divine presence, and then major concepts like clean/unclean, worship, and holiness. You might also need to confront some common Christian stereotypes about the law. I cover some of these in the podcast.

     

     
    Leviticus 1:1-9

     

    ‘Sacrifice’ Sacrifice: Choose one of the sacrificial laws in Leviticus 1-7 and go deep. I suggest looking at 1:1-9. Your sermon could focus on the costliness of sacrifice, and the emphasis on drawing near to God’s presence by bringing a gift. You could then focus on texts like Rom 12:1-2 where sacrifice plays a key role.

     

     
    Leviticus 16

     

    ‘Atonement’ Atonement: Focus on the Day of Atonement ritual in Leviticus 16. It’s a complex ritual, so this sermon will require deeper study. It’s well worth it! You might then look at Hebrews 9 as a New Testament counterpart.

     

     
    Leviticus 19

     

    ‘Love’ Love of neighbour and foreigner: Leviticus 19 forms the moral backbone of Jesus’ reading of the law. In Luke 10:25ff, Jesus insists that the law directs us to Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), to love our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18), and to love the foreigner (19:34). Jesus expounds on that latter point through the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30ff).

     

     
    Leviticus 25

     

    ‘Economic liberty’ Economic liberty: Leviticus 25 is a rich and under-explored text in the church. It not only informs the American proclamation ‘let freedom ring’ (cf. Lev 25:10), but more importantly, provides the basis for Jesus’ mission (Luke 4:16-21).

     

     

    dessert Questions - Gloves off; hard questions for the Bible student and theologian

    Question 1 -

    Some Christians point to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to justify the exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from the Church. What is your response? What principles guide your reading of the text for this moral issue?


    Question 2 -

    Leviticus implies that God’s presence is dangerous. Is that still the case? What does that danger teach us about worship?


    Waiter's Brief

    Answers to Questions

    Coaching Questions

    Questions

    • Answers to Questions -

    Taster Course Questions:

     

    QQQ             

    Imagine you’re from another planet, and you drop in on a church service happening on earth. What would you find most strange?

    Comment:

    Surely the strangest feature of Christianity is the extraordinary belief that a dead man came back to life.

     

     

    Main Course Questions:

     

    QQQ             

    How does the language of uncleanness operate in the church today? (Do a brief word search on ‘defile’ in Scripture to see examples from the New Testament).

    Comment:

    You might consider how Jesus treated those with uncleanness. It’s important to be careful not to draw a radical contrast between Leviticus and Jesus, however, even Jesus encouraged the healed leper to show himself to the priest and offer the cleansing sacrifice (Matthew 8:1-4). As with God in the Old Testament, Jesus did the healing. Cleansing was just about one’s ability to re-enter God’s presence in the sanctuary.

     

     

    QQQ             

    What do the laws in chapters 1-10 teach us about the meaning of ‘sacrifice’? How does that meaning differ from ways we use that term in the Church?

    Comment:

    You might discuss how sacrifice was not about ‘giving up’, but rather the ‘giving over’ of something valuable to God. It was also about receiving purification to enter God’s presence. In that sense, sacrifice facilitated the relationship between God and Israel. Finally, you might mention how sacrifice was fundamentally gift-giving.

     

     

    QQQ             

    Do chapters 11-16 provide any relevance for thinking about exclusion or inclusion in the church today?

    Comment:

    It’s worth considering how language of purity and impurity function in the church. Consider the use a while back of ‘purity rings’ to highlight that someone didn’t have sex before marriage. Is that how Christians should operate?

     

     

    QQQ 

    Consider Jesus’ use of Lev 19:18 and 34 in Luke 10:25ff. How does Jesus encourage us to read the law (using Leviticus)?

    Comment:

    Jesus draws from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (love for God), and Leviticus 19:18 (love for neighbour) to explain the heart of the law. But what we often miss is that Jesus also had Leviticus 19:34 (love for foreigner) on his mind when answering the young scribe. To emphasise the latter point, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

     

     

    Dessert Course Questions:

     

    QQQ             

    Some Christians point to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to justify the exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from the Church. What is your response? What principles guide your reading of the text for this moral issue?

    Comment:

    This is a highly contested and sensitive topic, and should be addressed with care and with due consideration for lives affected. You might highlight the problems with taking a few verses from Leviticus and applying them to the church without any consideration for the context of these passages. For instance, Leviticus also prohibits tattoos, and other things that we don’t apply today. Also, Leviticus only addresses male-male sex, but not female-female. But do these passages have any role in debates about homosexuality?

     

     

      Coaching Questions -
    Discipleship Coaching Session                                LEVITICUS

     

    Podder: …………………………………………

    10-15 mins:           ‘Hello’ and Beginning

    Set up Skype

    Key current things in your life

    Last pod you said you wanted to make progress in …  How have you got on?

    Prayer:        Ask for the Spirit’s help now.

     

    10/15 – 45 mins:    ‘Understanding the content’

     

    Matt Lynch writes: Leviticus offers a powerful opportunity to let the Bible speak. When leading a pod on this book, it’s worth explaining the difficulties we often face in letting the Bible have its own voice. We tend to overwhelm scripture with our assumptions about what it will say, and almost smother its unique and powerful voice. I suggest mentioning that in the early Church, Leviticus was one of the most quoted and consulted books.

     

         How did you engage with Leviticus?

    What were the verses that made the greatest impression on you?

     

          What do you want to talk about from your study of Leviticus?

                       Do you have any questions?

     

          What are the main topics?

    Clean/unclean, holiness, sacrifice, purity …

     

          Have you ever encountered ‘Raw God’?

    Describe any such moments in your life, and the effect they have had on you

     

    *** Use some of the Menu Questions

    45 – 55 mins:    Personalised Coaching Qs for the Podder

     

    1)   What motivates you most strongly to turn from evil?

     

    2)   What question shall I ask you when we next meet in the light of the application that you are making from your study of Leviticus?

    60 min: Pray the Prayer from Leviticus: Holy God of Israel, we bring you an offering of thanksgiving and praise because in Christ you have ‘tabernacled’ among us, calling us to draw near and receive forgiveness, to be made clean and become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We’re aware of our shortcomings and sin, but even more of the fact that Jesus our High Priest has made atonement for us. We pray that as we become transformed by your holy presence, we would love our neighbour as ourselves, love the foreigner as ourselves. By the power of your Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus, Amen.